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Nonfiction and Fiction Writing Tips – Keep Readers Hooked!

These nonfiction and fiction writing tips will keep your readers hooked; they apply to fiction books or nonfiction magazine articles, creative writing or technical business reports, blog posts or tweets…

And it’s all because of a Quips and Tips reader’s question:

“I like the tip about the teaser,” says Marla on 6 Query Letter Tips – How to Find a Literary Agent. “Do you have an example of a teaser you could use for a non-fiction proposal?”

These examples of teasers that keep readers hooked aren’t just for literary agents and non-fiction book proposals. They work for articles, blog posts, chapter endings, chapter beginnings, and even emails! Some of these tips are inspired by — but not directly from — How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead: Your Words in Print and Your Name in Lights. This is one of the best writing books on the market. I don’t understand why it’s not more popular.

Anyhoo, here are a few writing tips to keep your readers hooked…

Nonfiction and Fiction Writing Tips – Keep Readers Hooked!

1. Hook your readers with an excerpt. This tip for writing teasers is geared towards book proposals, but can be used in fictional chapters or magazine articles. To tease and hook a literary agent or publisher, include one or two of the best paragraphs in your manuscript. These paragraphs should reveal your writing style and the book’s content, and make the agent or publisher curious enough to request the full manuscript.

2. Avoid asking obvious questions. “Will our heroine recover the jewels, save the prince, and make home back in time to feed the horses?” is a bit too obvious. Writers need to plant those questions in readers’ minds without actually asking those questions. This is where the “showing, don’t tell” non-fiction and fiction writing tip comes in handy. “As the heroine reached across the chasm, her fingers brushed the prince’s, whose shouts of desperation and fear echoed through the rocky valley…” (Not my best work, but you get the point).

3. Write a vague title. Most writer’s guides exhort writers to be specific! Concrete! Active! Concise! Instead, I invite you to look at the teasers written on a magazine or newspaper’s front page – or’s front page. “Nasty Surprise in Mexico” and “Former CFL Quarterback Star Sentenced to 12 Years in Prison” are teasers that entice readers to click on the links, whether or not they care about Mexico or CFL quarterbacks. When you’re writing your book, chapter, or article title, be mysterious.

4. Learn how to create suspense in your writing. Suspense and foreshadowing are ideal techniques for keeping readers hooked. To create suspense in a fiction book or non-fiction article, add a dilemma or tough decision, a time pressure, or odds that seem insurmountable. Suspense can be an unanswered question, a mysterious mood, an odd action or statement, or a fascinating conflict.

5. Find the balance between being too obvious and too subtle. When you use suspense and foreshadowing, make sure your hint isn’t too subtle. “I wrote a story about a character who was being poisoned,” writes Anne Marble in Foreshadowing and Suspense. “I researched the effects of arsenic and gave him many of the symptoms, including pain in his hands and feet. What I forgot was that most readers don’t know the symptoms of arsenic poisoning. Whoops! So when they read about how the hero had trouble walking because of the pain in the soles of his feet, they were confused and wondered if it meant he had been burned in a fire. Foreshadowing should not make you readers go “What?” or “Huh?” or worst of all, “Who cares?!””

6. Create characters or topics readers care about. If readers don’t care whether my heroine will save the whole world – including their own behinds – then all the teasers or hooks in the world won’t help! Perhaps the first fiction/nonfiction writing tip should revolve around making your readers care about the characters or topics. Readers will read about the most mundane, boring subjects if they care about the characters or if they have a vested interest in the topic.

What do you think – how do you keep your readers hooked? If you have any fiction or nonfiction tips or questions, I welcome you below…

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3 thoughts on “Nonfiction and Fiction Writing Tips – Keep Readers Hooked!”

  1. Hello George,

    I bet writers talked about how hard it is to find, attract, and keep readers hooked since the invention of the radio, car, TV, computer, video games, and computer! Throughout the ages, there’s ALWAYS been something that entices our readers away…and both fiction and nonfiction writers have always struggled to keep readers hooked.

    So yes, it’s difficult…but is it really more difficult today than in past eras? I don’t know…

  2. Laurie,

    In some ways it is harder than ever these days to keep a reader interested. There are so many things competing for the attention of readers.

    For myself, something better grab me right away and keep me grabbed or I am likely to move on to the next thing.

    This hookey tips are valuable for writers to keep in mind as they navigate through very competitive times.